SI Vault
 
THE MAN, FOREVER
JOE POSNANSKI
November 10, 2011
HIS RECORDS AREN'T THE FLASHIEST, BUT THAT SUITS THE MODEST AND MARVELOUS STAN MUSIAL, WHOSE LEGACY AND PRESENCE EXTEND FAR BEYOND THE DIAMOND
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
November 10, 2011

The Man, Forever

HIS RECORDS AREN'T THE FLASHIEST, BUT THAT SUITS THE MODEST AND MARVELOUS STAN MUSIAL, WHOSE LEGACY AND PRESENCE EXTEND FAR BEYOND THE DIAMOND

View CoverRead All Articles
1 2 3 4 5 6 7

And without saying another word, Musial stepped back into the batter's box and doubled to the same spot in rightfield. This time it was called fair. The Cardinals rallied and won the game.

MUSIAL WAS FAMOUS FOR SIGNING autographs. So many Musial stories revolve around his seemingly boundless willingness to give people his signature. The old Cardinals announcer Harry Caray used to tell a story of a Sunday doubleheader in the St. Louis heat and humidity. Musial played both games, of course—in the 11 seasons after he returned from World War II, Musial averaged 153½ games per 154-game season. And after the nightcap, Caray said, Musial looked as if he had been through a prizefight.

When the second game ended, Musial stumbled out to the parking lot. He barely looked strong enough to stand. And there, at his car, he found dozens of fans waiting, hoping, shouting, "Stan! Stan the Man!" Caray turned to the person next to him and said, "Watch this." And together they watched Stan Musial walk up to the group and shout out his trademark "Whaddya say! Whaddya say! Whaddya say!" And he signed every single autograph.

Musial grew up the fifth of six kids in a five-room house in Donora, Pa., a hardscrabble town built around the U.S. Steel Zinc Works factory that pumped black smoke into the sky. Musial would always believe that that black smoke killed his father, Lukasz, a zinc worker who died in 1948. Stan himself worked at the Zinc Works one summer—just long enough to know he never wanted to work there again. Our games overflow with athletes who feel lucky and blessed because they escaped the hard destiny that seemed inescapable when they were young. But it's as though Musial felt luckier and more blessed, as though he spent every waking moment fully aware of the good fortune in his life.

Sometimes when he was out with his wife, Lil, people would ask for autographs at inopportune times, and Lil would suggest he politely decline. "These are my fans," Stan would say, lovingly but firmly, and sign them all. Teammates used to bet each other how often they would hear Musial use the word wonderful on any given day.

STAN MUSIAL NEVER LED THE LEAGUE in home runs. He came close once—that was in his epic 1948 season, when he was one home run short of becoming the only man in baseball history to lead his league in batting, runs, hits, doubles, triples, homers and RBIs. To this day Musial fans will tell you he lost that home run in an August rainout in Brooklyn, though nobody knows for sure.

Anyway, that's just legend. Musial's career was defiantly about what is real. He never led the league in home runs, but he led the league in doubles eight times and triples five. That was real. Musial broke hard out of the batter's box day after day, game after game. Dodgers pitcher Carl Erskine often said that his strategy for pitching to Musial was to throw his best stuff and then back up third base.

Musial never struck out 50 times in a season. That was real. "I could have rolled the ball up there to Musial," another Dodgers great, Don Newcombe, says, "and he would have pulled out a golf club and hit it out."

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5 6 7